Back From Sorrento. Exhausted.

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We’ve just got home from Sorrento, where we spent ten days staying at the wonderful Grand Hotel Ambasciatori (which I can certainly recommend). If you like history and sightseeing, Sorrento, while not too interesting in itself, makes a great base for getting around some very interesting places that are in the area of the Bay of Naples. I will list a few (in no particular order):

Capri. A spectacular mountainous island offering plenty to see. Try to see the Blue Grotto if you can, but be aware that the entrance, accomplished by being pulled in on a small bouncy boat, through a small rocky hole can be daunting for those who don’t like water. Lots of classy shops for the fashion-conscious. The exquisite Villa San Michele – home of Axel Munthe. A spectacular Natural Arch in the sea.

Amalfi. A very nice little town with a fine cathedral. Go by bus if you fancy the rather scary drive along the coast, otherwise take the boat from Sorrento. Get to see Ravello, if you can. It’s much prettier than Amalfi itself, and has a few interesting villas. It is also home to probably the most photographed tree in the world, since it features in the most common travel brochure photo and postcards of the Amalfi coast.

Pompei. Has to be seen by anyone interested in history. I’ve been four times now, and I still don’t feel that I’ve seen it all. But avoid in high summer, if you don’t like roasting heat and dust. It can be like being in an oven.

Herculaneum. Actually better than Pompei, in my opinion. It’s smaller, and so feels more manageable. But also the remains are in much better condition. Much less of it appears to have been hacked out and carved off to Naples museum. Like Pompei, you get the feeling that these people weren’t much different to us, and if you look up at the town itself (which is typically untidy), you might actually prefer (volcanoes aside, of course) to have lived than, rather than now.

Naples. If you’re feeling brave, because (if you find yourself in the wrong street) it can be famously and spectacularly dirty. But has a great museum containing the most interesting bits removed from Pompei. Having been once, though, I have to say that I’m unlikely to go again.

Ischia. Again, just a beautiful island with several worthwhile villas. The spas seem to appeal to the Germans.

This being Italy, though, you are struck by a few negative things. Firstly, the driving. To someone from Northern Europe, or Britain or the USA, it appears just awful. If you haven’t been before, and are tempted to drive yourself around, just don’t. You will feel out of your depth, because they have zero consideration or patience, and one suspects that more than half of them are not even insured – after all most of the cars and mopeds are smoking wrecks, so how could they have valid MOTs? Basically, you must EXPECT them to pull out in front of you. Second, it’s not a good place if you have a young child who still gets about in a buggy or a pram. The pavements (where they even exist) are not child-friendly, since they often shrink to a width of a few inches. Where they are wider, you’ll find street-lights right in the middle (so you have to go out into the road anyway), or restaurant tables placed out in a way that would probably be illegal in most other developed nations. Also, the drivers don’t stop at crossings. I don’t even know why they bother having them.

Having said all that, if you can put up with (or even approve of) such things, it can be a great place to visit. It certainly is for me, and I’ll be going again, hopefully several times, in the future.

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